History of Punjab

History of Punjab

The Punjab is virtually a Sikh Homeland. With the birth of Guru Nanak, the province of his birth acquired an importance and significance which is unique.

The Punjab has a geographical unity district from the neighboring countries and the rest of India as well as from the adjoining provinces.

Geographically Punjab is the land of five rivers. The Western side is bounded by river Indus from the point it enters the plains of another point 1650 miles downstream, where it meets the confluence of the Punjab’s rivers at a place appropriately named Panjnad, the five streams… The eastern boundary of the Punjab’s triangle is not clearly marked but from a point near Karnal where the Jumna plunges South-eastwards a jagged line can be drawn up to Panjnad, which will demarcate the states from the rest of Hindustan and the Sindh desert.”1

Infact, Punjab is shaped like a scalene triangle balanced on its sharpest angle. The shortest side is in  the North and is composed of the massive Himalayas, which separates it from the Tibetan Plateau.

But the frontiers of the Punjab have always been changing. The transformation of the Punjab has been as rapid and varied as the composition of its inhabitants. The Punjab of the today is quite different from that of Mahabharata age. And so is its population. Then it was entirely Hindu in character now its masters are Sikhs as they form a reckonable majority.

The historical Punjab is quite different from the geographical Punjab.  Geographically the Punjab is the land where six large rivers like the Indus, Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi Beas and the Sutlej flow. There are five Doabs between these rivers and the people of these tracts describe themselves as the People of the Punjab. The homeland of the vast majority of the Sikhs is in the Doabs of Indian Punjab i.e. Bari Doab (only Gurdaspur & Amritsar districts except Shakargarh Tehsil of Gurdaspur. It also includes four police stations of erstwhile district of Lahore namely Khalra, Valtoha, Patti and Khemkaran), Bist Jullundar Doab and Cis-Sutlej Malwa tract. And its boundary extends up to Shambu barrier from where the border of Haryana state behins. Though there is a sizeable minority of Sikhs living beyond the boundaries of the present Punjab which lives in Haryana, Himachal, U.P. Delhi, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, W.Bengal and many other states of India as well as overseas. Dr. Grewal rightly says: “For every 20 Sikhs in the Punjab there are no more than four in the rest of India and not more than one in the rest of the world.,”2 Infact, Siksh can be found in every country of the world . But our study is confined to the Sikhs living in present Punjab as well as the Punjab of yesterday whose frontiers once extended from Peshawar to Delhi i.e. metaphorically from Kabul to Karnal.

Punjab: Punjab has been known by various names since times immemorial. Historically the Punjab the name of region first finds mentioned in writings of the Muslim traveller, Ibn Batuta who visited India during the 14th century. It was, however, not until the latter half of the century that the term came into wider currency.3 It is very interesting to know how Punjab came to be known as such.

The ancients called it Sapt Sandhu (the land of 7 rivers such as Sindhu, Vitasta (Jhelum), Chamba, Purusni (Ravi), Vipasa (Beas) and Studra (Sutlej) and Sarswati (now a seasonal stream losing itself in Rajasthan desert. It is also asserted that it has gone undergroudn and it meets Ganges and Jamuna at the confluence of Paryag). In Persian literature it is called Haft Hindu.

It was also called Panch Nad in Sanskrit Literature. Greeks called it Penta Petamica. Later some other names such as Madra Mesa4, Vahilka Des and Takki Des came into vogue depending upon which of the these tribes was dominant at the time.

Ultimately, the Persian nomenclature Punjab proved lasting. Panjab proved lasting. Panch Nand and Punjab cannote the same meaning. Punjab is persian transformation of Panch ‘Nad’. Amir khusrau mentioned first in a dirge which he wrote on the death of Mohammed Kaan son of King Balban (the ruler of slave dynasty). He wrote, “On this sad event the people of Multan wept so aguishly as if five rivers have made their confluence in Multan.5 It is clear that Punjab came into vogue in place of Panj Nand.

Then Ibn Batuta as well as the Mongal invader Taimur Ganj used Panjab for Panch Nad.

In Punjab it was Bhai Gurdas who first used Punjab in his ballads.6 Thereafter the word Punjab has been used freely by the Janamsakhi writers (writers of Hagiographies).

In Puratan Janam Sakhi it has been written that “Kartarpur was founded in the land of Punjab.” Meharban, a grandson of Guru Ram Das and son of Prithichand writes in the Janam Sakhi which is said to be authored by him that ‘one day Guru Baba Nanak was sittig in the town of Kartarpur in the country of Punjab.” Thus this land came to be known as Punjab (the land of five rivers) and its language came to called Punjabi.

But the literal geographical definition had little relevance to historical Punjab. During Mughal rule it was synonymous to the province of Lahore. Under the Sikhs and the British it covered a far larger territory. It included the entire Indus Basin and the watershed between the Indus and the Gangetic plains. In 1849 J & Kashmir was sliced off to form a separate state. In 1901 N.W.F. Province consisting of 7 districts came into being as a separate province.

In 1947 Punjab was further partitioned. Pakistan got 16 districts forming west Punjab and east Punjab retained 13 remaining districts. In 1966 the state was trifurcated. Some districts like Kangra and Nalagarh went to Himachal Pardesh where as 6 districts formed present Haryana district. Punjab was hedged in between Wagah-Sambhu and Madhopur-Abohar. Historically  the present Punjab is only a minuscule of what Panjab was in Ranjit Singh’s time. It is another matter that the successive governments have vied with each other in increasing the successive governments have vied with each other in increasing the number of residue 7 districts to 20. The number of districts has increased, administration has worsened, and the plight of people has also deteriorated.


1. Khuswant Singh, A History of the Sikhs, p.3.

2. J.S. Grewal,  The New Cabridge History of India, p.1

3. H.K. man Mohan Singh, The Encyclopaedia of Sikhisms, Vol. iii, p. 373

4. Guru Gobind Singh,Dasam Granth vol. i, p. 76 (Ed. by Randhir Singh Punjabi University Patiala)

J.Dowson, Classical Dictionary of Hindu Mythology and religion, p. 183.

5. “Panj aabey digar andar daultan aamd pdeed!”

Quoted by Dr. Rattan Singh Jaggi in Sikh Panth Vishav Kosh, p. 1160

6. Varan Bhai Gurdas, Vaar 11, Pauri 24, p. 125

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